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Prepare this sweet in advance for a sweet day

Recipe: Chocolate-dipped orange refrigerator cookies -- need we say more?

Three cookies on a blue plate
The finished cookies: Dipped in dark chocolate
and sprinkled with, clockwise from lower right,
orange zest, pink sugar and sea salt. Pink
and white sprinkles or chocolate shavings
would be an option for Valentine's Day. (Photos:
Kathy Morrison)

Oranges and chocolate chips
I admit it: I love being able to pick oranges right off my
backyard tree to use in baking.


While most eyes today are on a certain football game, I'm looking ahead to next Sunday, Valentine's Day. The week ahead is going to be busy, so it's nice to be able to prepare a sweet treat ahead.

This lovely little shortbread-type cookie gets its big flavor from orange zest and juice. Oranges are in season in Northern California, not strawberries, so oranges should be featured more in February, I think. (Oh, sure, strawberries look like hearts, but where are they coming from at this time of year?)

And of course chocolate is so much a part of Valentine's Day. I just had to find a recipe that used both chocolate and oranges.

This cookie, which I adapted slightly from one on Sally's Baking Addiction ,  fills the bill. It has orange zest and juice in the cookie, a hint of cinnamon, a dark chocolate half-coating after baking and a sprinkle of more zest (if desired) at the end. Alternative sprinkles -- pink sugar! sea salt! -- are suggested.

The best part: It's a refrigerator cookie, so the dough can be mixed, rolled into logs and chilled (or even frozen) until it's time to bake. If you plan to mix and bake on the same day, allow plenty of time for chilling -- or do like I did and freeze the logs immediately, but remove them before they're frozen solid. (There's a lot of butter in there, and the dough gets hard.) Or chill one log to bake soon and freeze the other for another time.

A note about the chocolate for dipping: I like to use chocolate chips, but they are engineered to harden after baking. When melted, they resolidify quickly. Adding some vegetable shortening prevents this, yet the chocolate still gets nice and firm on the cookie, especially if chilled afterwards. A baking or eating chocolate bar that's been chopped and melted generally doesn't require anything added, but use what you're comfortable with. Even white chocolate is an option, though it is pretty sweet. Or let your cookies go bare!

Orange zested
One medium orange yields a little more than
1 teaspoon grated zest.
Chocolate-dipped orange refrigerator cookies

Makes 24-36, depending on size of refrigerator rolls

Ingredients:

3/4 cup unsalted butter at room temperature (don't melt it in the microwave!)

2/3 cup light brown sugar

1 egg, room temperature

1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

2 cups plus 2 tablespoons unbleached all-purpose flour, plus more for rolling

1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1/4 teaspoon salt

Zest from 1 medium orange (about 1 teaspoon), plus more for sprinkling, if desired

2 tablespoons fresh orange juice

For dipping:

2/3 cup dark chocolate chips

2 tablespoons vegetable shortening

Sprinkling options: Grated orange zest, pink decorating sugar, coarse white sugar, coarse or fine sea salt, sprinkles or chocolate shavings

Dough logs wrapped in plastic and foil
The floured dough logs are wrapped in plastic before
chilling. Add a layer of foil if freezing them.

Instructions:

In a large mixing bowl, beat the butter until smooth, about 1 minute. Add the brown sugar and beat together until creamy and fluffy.  Beat in the egg and vanilla extract at high speed until fully combined.

In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, cinnamon and salt. Add the flour mixture about 1/3 at a time to the butter mixture,  at medium speed, thoroughly mixing each time. Stir in the zest and orange juice.

Flour a work surface and turn the dough out onto it. Flour your hands and divide the dough into two halves, approximately, and roll into logs with the same diameter (anywhere from 1 inch to 2-1/2 inches, as long as they're the same). The logs will be well-floured. Wrap in plastic wrap (and foil if you're planning to freeze it) and chill at least 4 hours, or freeze. If you're doing a quick freeze like I did, put the logs in the coldest spot possible; they should be firm enough to slice in about 30 minutes.

When ready to bake: Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Prepare baking pans with parchment paper. Using a sharp knife, cut the logs into slices of equal thickness. (Mine were just under 1/2-inch thick.) Place the slices on the parchment paper, about 2 inches apart, and bake for 10-12 minutes, until the edge are just starting to brown.

Cookie dough slices on pan
The dough is sliced and ready to go in the oven. Form the slices
back into circles if they've gotten a little flat on one side
while chilling.

Remove the pan(s) and let it cool on a rack for at least 5 minutes, then slide the paper and cookies off onto the cooling rack to cool completely. The paper become the drip catcher for the soon-to-be dipped cookies.

When the cookies are cool, put the chips and shortening together in a small, deep bowl and zap in the microwave until completely melted and smooth. (You might have to stir it halfway through.)

One at a time, dip the cookies halfway into the chocolate, let the excess chocolate drip off, and place back on the paper. Then sprinkle with your choice of zest,  zest and salt, or just salt, or just sugar, or whatever else sounds good. A fork works best with the zest, I found.

Place the cookies in the refrigerator briefly to set the chocolate. (Tip: Slide a rimless baking sheet under the parchment paper to make the cookies easy to move.) The cookies should stay fresh, covered, for a week at room temperature or in the frig -- assuming they last that long.






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Dig In: Garden checklist for week of Jan. 29

Bundle up and get work done!

* Prune, prune, prune. Now is the time to cut back most deciduous trees and shrubs. The exceptions are spring-flowering shrubs such as lilacs.

* Now is the time to prune fruit trees, except apricot and cherry trees. Clean up leaves and debris around the trees to prevent the spread of disease.

* Prune roses, even if they’re still trying to bloom or sprouting new growth. Strip off any remaining leaves, so the bush will be able to put out new growth in early spring.

* Prune Christmas camellias (Camellia sasanqua), the early-flowering varieties, after their bloom. They don’t need much, but selective pruning can promote bushiness, upright growth and more bloom next winter. Feed with an acid-type fertilizer. But don’t feed your Japonica camellias until after they finish blooming next month. Feeding while camellias are in bloom may cause them to drop unopened buds.

* Clean up leaves and debris around your newly pruned roses and shrubs. Put down fresh mulch or bark to keep roots cozy.

* Apply horticultural oil to fruit trees to control scale, mites and aphids. Oils need 24 hours of dry weather after application to be effective.

* This is also the time to spray a copper-based oil to peach and nectarine trees to fight leaf curl. Avoid spraying on windy days.

* Divide daylilies, Shasta daisies and other perennials.

* Cut back and divide chrysanthemums.

* Plant bare-root roses, trees and shrubs.

* Transplant pansies, violas, calendulas, English daisies, snapdragons and fairy primroses.

* In the vegetable garden, plant fava beans, head lettuce, mustard, onion sets, radicchio and radishes.

* Plant bare-root asparagus and root divisions of rhubarb.

* In the bulb department, plant callas, anemones, ranunculus and gladiolus for bloom from late spring into summer.

* Plant blooming azaleas, camellias and rhododendrons. If you’re shopping for these beautiful landscape plants, you can now find them in full flower at local nurseries.

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